The end of the Pentagon’s two-decade effort in Afghanistan exposes the challenges facing remaining American diplomats and aid workers, as a modest civilian force tries to nudge warring Afghans toward peace and protect the progress that has been made for women without the support and access provided by the military mission.
A number of former and current American officials spoke of a set of obstacles that a smaller number of civilians in the American embassy in Kabul will have to deal with in light of the Corona pandemic and the spectre of a diplomatic evacuation that could complicate the great difficulties that workers in Afghanistan will inherit.
In the absence of a military component in Kabul, the mission of the US embassy has undoubtedly become more obscure, dangerous and difficult, said Hugo Lawrence, who served as the highest-ranking US diplomatic official in Afghanistan in the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Diplomatic challenges have come into focus after President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by the end of August, a move that has strengthened the Taliban, intensified its campaign to reclaim lost ground and deepened fears that the Kabul government might collapse.
A growing list of countries, including France and China, have evacuated their citizens from Afghanistan, and peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have shown little sign of progress.
The complexity of operations in the country is far greater than almost anywhere else, said a former high-ranking official with knowledge of the mission in Afghanistan, where there is insecurity and extreme poverty and tribal and ethnic divisions contribute to the cost and difficulty of the civilian mission alone.
Since the start of the war in Afghanistan 20 years ago, the work of the US State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies has been largely aided by the military’s exponentially larger mission in size, manpower, and funding.